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Fact Check: Obama on fuel economy: Your mileage may vary

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(CNN) — The statement:  “We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas … ”

That was part of President Barack Obama’s appeal to continue pushing for new energy technologies during Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, a line in which he also praised the expansion of renewable energy technologies like wind and solar electricity.

There are more high-mileage gasoline and hybrid-electric vehicles on the road. And automakers certainly have come a long way since the days when hulking, high-powered Detroit steel could pass anything but a filling station.

But doubled? CNN thought that claim was worthy of a road test.

The facts:

There are some impressively efficient vehicles in production these days. The Ford C-Max and Toyota Prius plug-in hybrids get a combined city-and-highway rating of 58 miles per gallon from the Environmental Protection Agency. An electric Honda Fit gets the equivalent of 118 mpg.

And back in August, the Obama administration issued new rules that would push automakers to make their entire fleets get comparable numbers. That regulation nearly doubles the mileage requirement for manufacturers, making them boost their corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) from the current standard of 29.7 mpg for cars and light trucks to 54.5 mpg.

But the automakers have until the 2025 model year to hit that goal. And while the average car made today is more of a gas-sipper than a guzzler, 54.5 is still a long way off: The average fuel economy of passenger vehicles sold in the United States averaged 33.8 mpg as of October, up from 24.7 in 2002 and 27.1 in 2008.

And the new rules have an escape hatch: If the industry has problems meeting the new standards, there’s a review process that could reduce the target.


The Obama administration has told automakers to double their average mileage. That part’s true. In terms of actual numbers, auto mileage is up, but most drivers still have a way to go before they can cut their fuel bills in half. As with a lot of things said in Washington, your mileage may vary.

By Matt Smith

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2013 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

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